Conrad blends many of his recurrent themes in Heart of Darkness. Chief among them are the education of a young man in search of the meaning of self and society in an ambiguous universe, the solitary and necessary reliance upon self, the oppositions of the values of civilization and savagery as well as their intersections, and the oppositions of appearance and reality and of innocence and experience replete with the tensions inherent in those eroding oppositions that blur at times into sameness. In blending all of these themes into his narrative Conrad also molds them into his habitual and overarching theme of tale-telling, the communication of experience and a sense of reality, the ruminations of a narrator attempting to sort out reality so that his listeners may see it, and the power and imperfections of language as the instrument of thought.
This is a tale of many voyages. The voyage into the heart of an immense darkness is a voyage into the collective
unconsciousness of the human race, a quest after the meaning of intelligent life in an alien and brutal universe. The voyage is also a descent into the underworld, not unlike the journeys in Virgil and Dante. This voyage is also one of self-discovery as Charlie Marlow attempts, many years later, to continue to make sense of his experience and to communicate his self-exploration to his listeners on board the yawl Nellie. Finally, there is the emotional voyage of one of Marlow's listeners, who is the...
(The entire section is 275 words.)
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Alienation and Loneliness
Throughout Heart of Darkness, which tells of a journey into the heart of the Belgian Congo and out again, the themes of alienation, loneliness, silence and solitude predominate. The book begins and ends in silence, with men first waiting for a tale to begin and then left to their own thoughts after it has concluded. The question of what the alienation and loneliness of extended periods of time in a remote and hostile environment can do to men's minds is a central theme of the book. The doctor who measures Marlow's head prior to his departure for Africa warns him of changes to his personality that may be produced by a long stay in-country. Prolonged silence and solitude are seen to have damaging effects on many characters in the book. Among these are the late Captain Fresleven, Marlow's predecessor, who was transformed from a gentle soul into a man of violence, and the Russian, who has been alone on the River for two years and dresses bizarrely and chatters constantly. But loneliness and alienation have taken their greatest toll on Kurtz, who, cut off from all humanizing influence, has forfeited the restraints of reason and conscience and given free rein to his most base and brutal instincts.
Deception, or hypocrisy, is a central theme of the novel and is explored on many levels. In the disguise of a ‘‘noble cause,’’ the Belgians have exploited the Congo....
(The entire section is 2349 words.)